Reading, writing and ratatouille: Students get cooking

18 Feb

Starting a school garden is not unlike buying a soup spoon.

You can’t fully enjoy a new soup spoon until you also buy the soup bowl and the soup to fill it. And students can’t fully enjoy a school garden until they harvest its vegetables and fruits — then take the next step of cooking and eating them.

Sure, classrooms can learn plenty in a garden, even without harvesting from it. There’s no shortage of literacy, science and math lessons to do in a garden, and in our school, teachers have already created 30 lessons’ worth of connections with N.C. Standard Course of Study.

But what students learn from an edible garden can and should go beyond lessons about the parts of a plant or decomposition. Students should be able to feel the thrill of pulling a root vegetable from the ground, tasting a tomato right from the vine, and fully understanding where food comes from.

At George Watts Montessori, we’re investing in the soup bowl, as it were.

I’ve asked a class of industrial-design students at North Carolina State University to design and build a mobile cooking station for holding cooking classes indoors or outdoors. With a fully loaded cooking station, our school nutritionist, Becca Wright, can do hands-on cooking and tasting classes with pre-K through fifth graders.

And that’s yet another way we’ll bring fruits and vegetables from the garden to students.

Becca works with our school through the DINE for LIFE program, which is offered by the Durham County Health Department. Right now, she serves three Title I schools in Durham, including ours.

Becca talks to students about fruits and vegetables ...

... then lets them taste the apple salsa she brought in.

Her sessions with students are way more engaging than you might imagine (if you’re envisioning the food-pyramid lessons you probably had in school). But still, there’s a lot of talk about food and nutrition, and not much doing.

Becca says that the students are ready to take the next step, which is to graduate from talking about food to cooking it — picking up valuable kitchen skills and nutrition knowledge as they chop and mix.

That’s where our industrial-design students — Daniel Lecky, Brian Besterman and Zach Hodgins — enter the picture.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited their class to talk to the students about the school-gardening project and our current challenge — getting more of our garden’s produce into students’ stomachs! We fund the project through a recent BCBSNC Foundation grant. These three bright students were excited enough by the challenge to take it on — and I’m so pleased they’re collaborating with us.

Their mission is to make it easy for Becca to whisk into a classroom or into the garden with a cart that holds everything she needs to cook with kids — including a cooking surface. The station needs to be nimble, kid-friendly, expandable, sign-bearing and safe.

Yesterday the NCSU students, along with their professor Tim Buie, came to the school to tour the school and garden, and to observe Becca give a fruits-and-vegetables lesson to one of the Lower El (1st, 2nd and 3rd grade) classrooms. They took a lot of notes and asked a lot of great questions.

It’ll be a learning experience for all of us. But we hope to have a prototype working within a month or two. Just in time for the garden’s spring crop!

3 Responses to “Reading, writing and ratatouille: Students get cooking”

  1. Belinda @zomppa February 18, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    What fantastic news! I can’t wait to see those prototypes – those students are going to come up with something amazing!

    • Alice Bumgarner February 18, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

      Thanks, Belinda! This whole process is making me wish I’d majored in industrial design :)

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  1. Sneak peek at the new mobile cooking station | GROWING GARDENERS - March 24, 2011

    […] Mar As I wrote in a previous post, I’m working with three design students from North Carolina State University and their […]

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